The Narrows (Self-released)
For an artist in a popular band, going solo presents a bit of a conundrum: Just how close should one's individual project sound to that of his proper band? There's no wrong answer, or right one, really. And if the songs are good enough, if shouldn't matter.
However, history has shown that, most of the time, it does. Iggy Pop, for instance, carried enough of the darkness and edge of The Stooges on his debut album, The Idiot, to start off strong in the second chapter of his career. Lou Reed, however, didn't fare so well on his self-titled debut, which had neither the artful touch of The Velvet Underground, nor enough character to be all that memorable on the whole.
The Heavy Guilt aren't The Stooges or The Velvet Underground, but as local bands go, they've got more name—and song—recognition than most. And, for that matter, frontman Erik Canzona boasts one of the most recognizable voices in San Diego, his soulful pipes being one of the most powerful instruments at the band's disposal. So, Canzona's first proper solo album, The Narrows, might be met with certain expectations, or at least one specific one: Does it sound like The Heavy Guilt?
The answer is both yes and no. The constant is Canzona's songwriting, which remains tuneful and bluesy throughout The Narrows, and just about everything here stands up to his material with The Guilt. Likewise, his voice is a powerful element on the album, and though he operates with more subtlety and within quieter confines, a little goes a long way, making climactic moments like his intense rise in volume at the end of "Your Plan" all the more effective.
All the sounds on The Narrows were made by just Canzona, his Heavy Guilt bandmate Al Howard and drummer Jake Najor, though it's a surprisingly rich and full set of songs. This isn't so much a stereotypical singer / songwriter folk album as one of gothic blues in the vein of Mark Lanegan or Neko Case. On tracks like "Anchor Me" and "Forced My Hand," Canzona explores darker terrain and more varied atmospheres, and he showcases a side of his songwriting that he doesn't necessarily get to explore with his other band.
The Narrows is a powerful example of how some subtle changes can make a big difference.